While the multitude of economic (recession, increasing costs of living), political (war), and social (pandemic, climate change) challenges continue to bring great levels of stress, employee mental health and well-being are at risk.
It’s well known that employee engagement and well-being are positively correlated and that they both contribute to overall team productivity. If today’s business leaders, as well as their employees, can better recognize where they currently stand in terms of their own physical and mental health, they are better positioned to identify which actions to take to overcome challenges and ultimately thrive through all current and future challenges, including the financial downturn that lies ahead.
When employees are both engaged and their well-being is thriving, they are more agile and resilient, which in turn means those teams can better navigate major economic and organizational changes as well as disruptions in their personal lives.
Understanding employee engagement
Employee engagement is an emotional state of mind that causes people to do their best work over a longer period of time. We can define it as a psychological presence with two main components:
- Attention, which is the amount of time spent by an employee thinking about the work,
- Absorption, which refers to the intensity of focus and enthusiasm attributed to work.
Someone who shows high employee engagement has positive thoughts and a strong sense of fulfillment with their work. This can involve enthusiasm, dedication, and an occasional state of flow or complete absorption in their work. Fully engaged employees are highly committed to their work, willing to give their all to their team and organization, dedicated to an organization’s purpose, certain in their definition of success, confident in the support of their teammates, and excited by their organization’s future.
The complete opposite of fully engaged employees are team members that are “just coming to work”, only doing the bare minimum to make it through the day and receive the paycheck, with little to no emotional attachment.
Employee engagement is measured by many, if not most, organizations with pulse and eNPS surveys.
What is not being measured today is employee well-being, which is even more important given that it has a strong positive impact on both engagement and productivity.
Understanding employee well-being
Well-being is defined as the overall mental, physical and emotional health of an individual. It is sometimes described as high resilience, which is the capacity of an individual to withstand, bounce back from, and work through challenging circumstances or events through continuous reflection, lifelong learning, openness to reinvention, and taking responsibility for one’s actions and outcomes.
Highly resilient employees demonstrate agency and the ability to compartmentalize, they create psychologically safe work environments, which are based on honest communication and they trust in their leaders’ abilities to anticipate the future and follow through on commitments. Such employees are adaptive but assertive individuals that follow their own principles and moral values, despite being faced with pressures from the market, their clients, or peers.
Organizations have been struggling to embrace employee well-being in the workplace for a long time now. Historically, workplace well-being initiatives were considered as not so important, and they were not a priority for many employers.
However, things are changing very rapidly, especially with the multitude of current trends:
- Since 2020, more than half of the world’s active population consist of millennials – also known as the well-being generation. Harvard Business Review found that 50% of millennials (defined in this survey as 23-38 years old) respondents have left a job, both voluntarily and involuntarily, partially due to mental health reasons.
- COVID propelled the ‘silent’ mental health pandemic – symptoms of anxiety and depression nearly doubled across the European population over the last 2 years.
- Statista found that nearly 50% of the European workforce either experienced or felt on the verge of burnout in 2021.
These challenging times are having a significant negative impact on employees’ mental well-being.
This is a strong wake-up call for many employers to invest in well-being initiatives that can drive measurable results in the mental well-being of employees and create a positive shift in organizational health.
Measuring organizational well-being needs to:
- Bring value to an employee — employees want to learn more about themselves so they can take appropriate actions to improve their well-being, and not just fill in a survey for an employer.
- Be confidential — employees need to feel confident that their responses are anonymous if an organization wants them to participate honestly. When people think they might be personally identified, they will be less likely to complete the survey.
- Be simple and easy to use — this way it can be done continuously and not just 1x per year like pulse and eNPS are done. This will allow each employee to identify patterns that negatively or positively affect their mental well-being and take actionable measures to become more resilient. It also allows an employer to better understand the team’s well-being pulse and identify if they need to take additional measures, like adjusting the scope of work, reevaluating deadlines, or hiring new employees.
- Be science-based by using standardised measures of mental health, resilience, and well-being — this ensures that the measurement methods are not anecdotal, but rather grounded in science and applicable to all cultural backgrounds.
This will provide a more accurate picture of workforce mental health and the challenges that the team is facing.
Wellsome complies with all the above criteria and allows employees to measure and better understand their own well-being to improve it — all in a privacy-preserving way following the Strategic Privacy by Design framework. It also allows employers to measure and improve organizational well-being which drives productivity.
How employee engagement and well-being impacts team productivity
- Poor employee engagement correlates with lower productivity, i.e. those who are less engaged are likely to put less effort into their work and unlikely to find better solutions to existing problems.
- Lower employee well-being is directly linked to lower productivity, i.e. those who are struggling physically, mentally or emotionally are less able to perform their job well (presenteeism), they are more prone to burnout and take more sick leave days (absenteeism). In Germany stress and poor mental health is now the second most common reason why employees take sick leave.
- Engagement and well-being are linked – resilient employees are more committed, and committed employees are more healthy.
- Employee engagement and well-being both positively contribute to organizational productivity
Now, what happens if employee engagement and well-being are in disbalance? This will not only result in moderate productivity and therefore negatively impact the profitability of the organization, but the disbalance will also negatively affect an individual employee.
High engagement + low well-being = burnout, high stress, increased sick leave and employee turnover
When there is high engagement and low well-being, an employee will usually neglect their physical or mental health and risk burnout. HR teams and management will notice the first signs of this combination when the employees are so engaged that they are working long hours, often forgetting to take good care of their nutrition, sleep, and movement, neglecting their physical and mental well-being in the process. Sick leave days will go up and turnover costs will increase as burnout employees will start leaving the organization. The stress levels of the ones who remain will rise, which will be reflected in the way how people communicate and handle day-to-day work challenges.
This scenario often plays out in fast-paced, high-stress workplace environments where the main focus is company growth. Employees working in technology startups and scale-ups are especially prone to this risk. That is why their employer needs to provide them with good workplace well-being support.
Low engagement + high well-being = social withdrawal, lack of initiative, increased employee turnover
Now when the opposite is true and the employee shows high well-being and low engagement, this often means the individual feels disconnected from the company and its team purpose. Disengaged employees are missing a sense that their work makes any difference. This shows in social withdrawal, lack of initiative to improve, and decreased level of productivity. Disengaged employees will be the most resistant to change, they will avoid activities that show any investment in the company, and they will focus on the problem itself, without any aim of finding a solution. Often disengaged employees will leave the organization on their own.
Ineffective management is a leading cause of employee disengagement. When employees experience exclusionary practices (like if they are passed over for a promotion because of their gender, or age), employee engagement suffers. When employees feel micro-managed and discouraged from thinking about ways to make their jobs better, it’s hard to feel passionate and fully invested in work. Leadership training and professional development is often the approach the management can take to grow into better leaders that create an environment for high employee engagement.
The future of work is employee well-being
High employee well-being leads to positive outcomes like commitment, drive, and vigor, which results in increased organizational performance in areas such as productivity (healthy employees get more done in less time), customer satisfaction, company’s attractiveness to new recruits, lower turnover, and less sickness leave.
Gallup business journal research found out that employees that are engaged and who have high well-being are:
- 30% more likely not to miss any workdays because of poor health in any given month
- 27% more likely to report “excellent” performance by their organization
- 45% more likely to report high levels of adaptability in the presence of change
- 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months
The last years have given employers increased visibility into many life struggles of their employees and the pandemic has brought mental health and well-being to the forefront of many organizations. Companies are now taking deliberate actions to destigmatize mental health and leaders view well-being not just as another employee benefit but as an opportunity to support employees through difficult times in their personal and work lives.
A team that demonstrates resilience will produce better results over an extended period than a group that is not resilient because they are able to adapt in the face of a challenge and support each other to achieve their mutual success.
This is the kind of organization that will not only survive the economic downturn but rather come out of it more connected and more resilient ready to thrive in a world of uncertainty.
Wellsome brings mental health to the modern workplace. We create digital evidence-based well-being resources and provide every employee with easy access to mental health which combines prevention, prediction, and treatment.
Our solution combines the WHO well-being assessment, PSS stress assessment, The Feeling wheel, self-care resilience-building resources (like mindfulness meditations, stress release exercises, sleep stories, movement exercises), well-being team rituals, daily well-being learning content, and access to licensed counselors for personalized mental health support.
Learn more about Wellsome by scheduling a call to find out what we can do for your team.